Before we go into the tested and trusted ways to promote your music as an upcoming act, it’s good to clear the air that labels are important in the music business.
A label provides organization and structure for the artiste. They help the artiste pick out the songs that are likely to do well and compile them into an album, they help the artiste organize proper logistics for bookings and shows, and make sure that an artiste gets legal representation before going into any deal.
However, not all artistes start with a label, and not many make it big with one either. Thanks to the opportunities that the internet gives us, there’s a chance that anybody can become a big music act without a label.
Artistes that made it big without labels
Chance The Rapper
A seven-time Grammy nominee and a three-time Grammy winner, Chance the Rapper has refused to sign with a label since breaking into the music scene in 2013. According to an article from 2015 quoted on Indepreneur, Chance says that he likes the freedom that not being tied to a label gives him.
The late Nipsey Hussle was also an independent artiste, and some of your favourite artistes’ favourite artiste. He released a mixtape in 2013 that sold for $100 and Jay-Z bought a thousand copies of it. For Nipsey, it was more about1 engaging with the audience directly, and that was how he stayed relevant until his unfortunate passing in 2019.
Two-time Grammy Award winner Frank Ocean used to be with a record label but has most of his successes (and money) outside the label set up. Without a label, Frank not only pursues a music career but is a creative’s creative. He’s a compere, a radio host, a photographer, and an entrepreneur. And he’s also your favourite artiste’s favourite artiste.
What do these three heavyweights have in common? The consistent use of the internet to push their work after pooling all their resources together and leveraging on their network. Creating is only half of the effort, but it’s an effort that can be time and resource-consuming. In a country like ours, where both are scarce, labels may be the only way out.
Labels, however, are businesses. Businesses are not risk-takers. They’re calculating, and will always prioritize what they have concluded will make them the most money. Your talent may be overwhelming, but a label may not have the right means to monetize it for you and them. You can’t wait forever for them to figure it out, can you? Therefore, you should try these 5 tested and trusted ways that artistes (like the ones mentioned above) use to promote their music in 2021 and beyond.
1. Social media
This goes without saying. Half the world’s internet population is active on all social media platforms. They are your market. If they’re not seeing your stuff when they login to do their thing on their preferred social media sites, what are you doing?
Create and maintain an account. Keep it as professional as you can. Upload videos, teasers, and links. Tag prominent handles so that they can see and take notice of your work (many artistes have gotten the attention of labels this way). Most importantly, build a relationship with your online friends and followers, and use that relationship to grow your audience.
2. Build a website and mailing list
Even if you make music for fun, nobody creates it with the intent of shelving it. You want your work to be seen. How much more the creator who wants to make a career out of it?
Creating websites is the most important way to get into the business side of today’s digital world. This website serves as your base for your social media profiles, distribution channel links, and other links you want your fans to be aware of. You must create a website as an underground artiste so that your music is accessible. Releasing your music, using link shorteners may not be the best solution to people accessing all your work at the same time.
As you’re creating a website, try to set up an email marketing list as well. Let there be an option for your listeners to sign up on your website, so you can send them personalized messages whenever you have a new body of work to promote. You can also send them specialized thank you notes for supporting you, which is a way to keep them loyal. This works a lot better than posting on social media with all the limiting features of those platforms.
3. Music videos and viral videos
You’re probably thinking of how expensive this can be, but who says you have to shoot a big-budget movie-esque music video? Get your friends together, come up with a concept, get a nice location, a few cameras, and do your thing. The Cavemen, for their hit song, “Anita” off their debut album “Roots“, compiled several videos of their friends and fans dancing to the song and released it as a music video. See below.
It’s this easy. You can also make viral videos – videos without any concepts that you distribute across your social media platforms. This helps your audience enjoy your performance without focusing too much on the visuals – they also get familiar with you as an artiste.
Also, did you know that The Cavemen are not signed to any record label yet? They distribute with a Nigerian-based music distribution platform called FreeMe Music who offers label services to artistes if they so desire.
4. Submit your songs for playlisting
Don’t just upload your songs on Spotify or Audiomack or whatever distribution channels you use. Submit them for playlisting in the genre your music’s in.
Afrobeats is the biggest genre in Nigeria. As an afrobeat artiste, you should have your music on at least one afrobeat playlist on all the music channels. You can’t afford to ignore streaming and playlisting, as you’ll be ignoring millions of listeners and potential fans who use these playlists to find new music and artists to listen to every day.
5. Send your music to blogs and websites for promotions
Just imagine leveraging Talku Talku’s audience to promote your dope new song, mixtape, or EP. You get an interview, a press statement announcing your new work, and a press link that you can put on your website and social media to show people that you’re a serious musician.
It’s an old, tested, and trusted way, but it works wonders. It’s cheaper than hiring a professional PR executive and even cheaper than paying radio stations who will probably play your song just once.
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There are several other ways to promote your music as an underground or upcoming act, but these 5 ways mentioned above are the best way to go about it in 2021 and beyond.